Route 29 widening impacts six vintage homes

Project could seal off historic enclave

May 22, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

When retired attorney Robert F. Collins' 19th-century home was built, animal-drawn wagons were the only traffic. But now he and Michael Bakalyar, Marsha French and four other neighbors along Route 29 in Columbia live in noisy isolation next to the high-speed freeway that is the only way to get to their homes.

State highway officials want to seal them off from the congested road while adding 4 miles of a third northbound lane to the median. Additionally, sound walls would be installed from the Patuxent River to Route 175, where the existing two-lane road is daily jammed bumper to bumper with commuters. A third problem spot is a few miles farther south at River's Edge, a large development south of Route 32 where a traffic light allows residents to cross the busy highway but impedes traffic flow. State highway officials plan to meet with residents about options there at 7 p.m. Monday at Atholton High School.

State highway engineer David J. Coyne said his agency is in the early stages of exploring various options to speed Route 29 traffic, which also tops Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's highway transportation objectives. But there is no funding for the estimated $90 million to $100 million, two-phase project, and a start to construction is still at least three years off, even though planning began more than two decades ago.

How to provide alternate access for the three 1950s vintage homes on Gales Lane, which is next to the Columbia footbridge over the highway, and three more on Old Columbia Road near the Route 175 interchange is a vexing problem for Bakalyar, Collins and others who live nearby. When the Gales Lane homes were built, Route 29 was a lightly used road with one lane in each direction. Now there are five lanes of speeding traffic that average 73,500 vehicles a day, according to state highway figures from 2008, the latest available.

One option -- building a new street into Columbia proper -- particularly bothers Bakalyar.

"Your road and bridge go right up to my garage," Bakalyar told highway officials at an information meeting in Oakland Mills Tuesday night. "I'm not really jumping up and down over this." Like others at the meeting, his wife French wanted to know exactly what highway officials have in mind, worried that a new connecting road would remove big trees that at least visually separate them from Columbia.

"If you were me, you'd want to know where it's heading," French said about the project options.

Their neighbors, Fletcher and Christine Ferguson, operate a tree-trimming service from a large shed on their property. "We don't want to sell, " Fletcher Ferguson said. "If we lose the property, we're out of business."

Bakalyar and French have lived on the short but steep incline of Gales Lane for 11 years.

His comments were in response to a plan that would close him off from Route 29 -- by building a connecting road through a stream to existing Columbia homes on another nearby segment of Gales Lane near Rosinante Run. State highway project manager Mariefrance Guiteau said the only other options are to buy all the existing homes or build extra deceleration and acceleration lanes on Route 29 to give them safer access. But the highway officials would rather seal off the road. "It's a safety concern," Guiteau told more than 50 residents who gathered in the loft of the Other Barn.

There are more choices for the three much older homes on Old Columbia Road. Several involve building connecting roads to nearby Wandering Way or to an office park on Twin Knolls Road, but highway officials said if owners want to sell, they would consider buying the three properties or again improving limited access to the highway.

The two options involving Wandering Way drew protests since one would replace an existing, occupied home, and the other would use Columbia Association open space that resident Barbara Russell said would impinge on her adjacent home. Other neighborhood residents said they fear unwanted visitors to what would be a secluded, little-used street or obstructions to traffic from people parking on the roadsides.

All the options would be expensive, though exact costs are uncertain since no specific plan has been chosen. Planning is costing $5.6 million, including $2 million from Howard County, state officials said. Another public information meeting on the overall project is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 2 at Hammond High School.

Collins said he and his wife Mary bought their historic home in 1961, and highway officials said a former blacksmith shed next to it dates to about 1820, when the first portion of the main house was also built to shelter workers at the original Oakland Mills. The former plantation mansion, Oakland, still stands in West Columbia's Town Center neighborhood. Highway officials said their research has identified ruins of other, even older structures on Collins' property.

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